An alert system for missing or murdered Indigenous women and people was officially signed into law Thursday, making it the first such system of its kind in the country.
House Bill 1725 was introduced during the legislative session by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow. Currently the only Native American serving in the state legislature, Lekanoff is Tlingit and Aleut, and is part of the Missing, Murdered and Indigenous Women and People task force, a workgroup created by the Attorney General’s Office in August.
Her bill passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously.
The bill signing took place at Tulalip Casino and was hosted by the Tulalip Tribes.
“I am proud to say that the missing and murdered Indigenous women’s and people’s alert system came from the voices of our Native American leaders, it came from the broadcasters, it came from the Washington citizens…” Lekanoff said.
Lekanoff said missing and murdered Indigenous people are not just an “Indian issue” or responsibility.
“The missing and murdered Indigenous women’s bill does something as simple as this,” Lekanoff added. “…it removes the hand so we can hear the unheard screams.”
The alert system is similar to Amber Alerts or Silver Alerts, where information about missing persons is shown on highway signs and information is distributed to local media outlets and via text message.
According to a study by the Urban Indian Health Institute, which researched 506 cases in several cities around the country, Seattle has the highest rate of murdered Indigenous women and people in the country, while Tacoma has the highest number of missing Indigenous women and people.
The study also showed that Indigenous women are more than four times as likely as white women to go missing in the state. Overall, Washington has the second highest rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who attended the signing, said that other state attorneys general have already reached out to him about the alert system, and that they hope to implement something similar in their states.
Gov. Jay Inslee also signed a tribal consultation bill, after the governor spent the second half of 2021 working with Washington tribes to craft the measure. The bill was requested by the governor’s office and was also sponsored by Lekanoff.
He was joined by several local tribal leaders during the signing including Glen Gobin, Tulalip Tribes Vice Chairman, Teri Gobin, Tulalip Tribes Chairwoman, and Leonard Forsman, Suquamish Chairman and President of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.
The legislation requires state agencies to consult with tribes about how they plan to spend money from the Climate Commitment Act, which passed the legislature last year. Agencies also must provide transparency to tribes about how resources and rights would be impacted.
Inslee said the bill “helps us accomplish our shared goals to build clean energy, support resilient ecosystems, and maintain healthy salmon populations in the face of climate change.”
Other bills also signed into law:
▪ House Bill 1571 “strengthens” search and recovery efforts for missing and murdered Indigenous women, including recovering remains while remaining respectful of cultural practices. It also provides trauma treatment for missing Indigenous women who are found.
▪ House Bill 1717 establishes a framework for tribal participation during the Growth Management Act planning process. The governor said the bill will help ensure tribal sovereignty.
▪ Senate Bill 5694 allows those sentenced in tribal court to serve their felony sentences in Department of Corrections facilities, instead of county jails, which are not equipped to house people with long-term sentences. This also would provide those individuals with more access to services such as education and healthcare while serving their sentences.
▪ Senate Bill 5866 allows tribes to contract with the Department of Social and Health Services to determine eligibility for long-term care and case management for individuals.
This story was originally published March 31, 2022 2:08 PM.